By Christopher Cudworth
The narrative of the Book of Genesis begins with the creation story at the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As such it is also a watershed in terms of competing worldviews. Some take as literal truth these fundamental ideas: God created the world in seven 24-hour days, created man from dust and woman from the rib of man, kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for cheating on a few rules set up by God to protect them, and then the trouble started.
Ostensibly sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve. Eventually the nasty little habit of people doing bad things led God to wipe out most of the living things on the planet. That’s according to the legend of Noah and his ark, which is also considered a literal truth by those who consider that important to the verity of the Bible.
Having read the entire Book of Genesis over many times, and having read everything I can about the book from both literal and metaphorical perspectives, there’s a plain fact staring everyone in the face that is too often ignored. The entire message of the Book of Genesis comes down to one thing, something God wants us all to know. “You should know better than that.”
If you take the Bible literally, that is still the message of Genesis. “You should know better than that.” God warned Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden. But they did. They obviously should have known better.
As chronicled in the rest of the Bible, God repeatedly tries to warn his chosen people and all those who would listen that they need to have faith and trust in the principles God has mapped out for the human race. Time and again people breach these promises from God and all hell breaks loose.
When wandering in the wilderness after being freed by Moses from bondage by the Egyptians, the Israelites complain and moan and create idols in defiance of God’s orders to be faithful. God is not pleased.
Later on in biblical history God’s people complain that they have no king. God tells them, “Pay attention to my guidance and you’ll never need kings.” But they insist, and the kings turn out to be flawed and tragic and selfish. Just like the rest of us. God tried to tell them. “You should know better than that.”
Of course the entire arc of the Book of Genesis ultimately points toward the arrival on earth of God’s own Son. That would perhaps be Yeshua, if we were hewing to the pronunciation of the day. To those of us reading various translations of the Bible, that man is Jesus.
Whose main message is that you should love one another even to a fault. You should even love your enemies. That is the only true path to forgiveness, grace and salvation. Versus the ugly path our journeys take when we let our base instincts rule the day. In so many words the primary message of Jesus was an echo of Genesis. “You should know better than that.”
The people who really should have known better never accepted the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. They conspired to have him killed and succeeded in their mission to retain power and authority over the religion of the day. Of all people, they should have known better than that. Problem was, they were so obsessed with the rule of law and owning that authority for themselves, they could not see that they were the very real problem Jesus came to address.
Which brings us to the current day, and how so many people wield the message of Genesis like a weapon. They brandish a literal interpretation of the Bible as if it were God’s own words. But let us not forget––the real message of Genesis is this: “You should know better than that.”
God has been telling us the same thing for millenniums, yet people refuse to listen. They’re so busy being faithful to the idea of what the Bible is about they fail to see the basic message of it all. “You should know better than that.”
Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites and a brood of vipers for being so possessive of the truth. He blamed them for obscuring the true message of scripture, which is and always will be, “You should know better than that.”
So those of us who believe in evolution and do the honest work of reconciling the legitimate worldview of science to our faith cannot be blamed for for being the ones who undermine the true message of scripture. That has long been the work of those who patently should know better.
Jesus admonished his own disciples for failing to grasp the meaning of his parables. “Are you so dull?” he asked them. See, there’s a whole lot of truth that is healthily accessible through metaphor. That’s why Jesus taught in parables, to help people get a grip on spiritual principles by using natural examples such as mustard seeds and yeast to explain the growth of faith and the reach of grace. People “got it” because the truth was distilled to a simple principle.
Divorced from these cogent examples, the Bible really is just words on a page. We lose the symbol of the Lamb for Jesus Christ. We lose the foreshadowing of Abram willing to kill his own son Isaac. We lose the glorious fight that David engaged in for God. But we also lose the significance of the hugely flawed human being that David was, and why his sins hold true for us as well. Indeed, God did not even allow David to build a temple in His honor. God told David, in so many words: “You have too much blood on your hands.”
The patent irony of God’s decisive powers should not be lost on us. Even when you are a dedicated servant of God, not everything is going to go your way. Truly, you should know better than that. But just because our lives have difficulty does not mean that we are not special in the eyes of God. All things in the universe are special in the eyes of God.
For those of us with a hunger for attribution, the 14+ billion year history of the universe only confirms the special nature of our existence. The fact that for millions of years human beings did not exist on this earth, and the fact that 99% of all living things that ever existed are now extinct makes it even more special that human beings know how to survive. Yet we waste that gift of creation in so many ways. We have poisoned and polluted and abused our world many times over, and often in the name of God. Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Nothing in that phrase justifies abuse of the earth. In fact the word ‘dominion’ can be translated in other ways, especially to mean ‘good stewards.’ Yet that is not the legacy demanded by so many who take the Bible literally. They proceed with such force of will and selfish perspective it cannot possibly be the will of God. Yet they claim it so.
Remember that God favored David in many ways. Yet when it came time for David to honor God by building a temple in His name, it was not for that servant to receive that honor. That fell to his son Solomon, a wise man in many ways, yet also a flawed individual.
It was a harsh directive God returned to David. “So you thought you could earn the right to build a temple to me through violence alone? You should know better than that.”
That is the lesson people refuse to learn. Yes, you may have done your job well in your devotion to God. But you can also do it too well, which was the lesson for both David and the Pharisees. By being so religious and forceful that you miss the true message of God, it become possible that ego and desires run your soul when a share of prudence, consideration and metaphorical breadth of mind would serve you so much better than that other thing you do.